ArchiveSeptember 13, 2008

Organic, Fresh and Fab

Next week is National Organic Week so you will be seeing lots of articles in the media extolling the virtues of all things organic for the next few days.  I’m certainly going to add my ‘tuppence halfpenny worth’ because I am totally convinced of the value of spanking fresh organic produce in terms of flavour and nutrition.

Problem is nowadays no one believes anything unless it has been scientifically proven and therein lies the conundrum.

Very little research has been done in the organic sector by comparison with the conventional sector, moreover it is extremely difficult to get research done or to get answers to basic questions.   One could be forgiven for thinking that there was no great hunger to prove that there may be health benefits.

In August 2000, Sir John Krebs, the then head of the Food Standards Agency in the UK, enraged the Soil Association and other certifying bodies by saying that there was absolutely no scientific proof that organic was better.  He stated “there is not enough information available at present to be able to say that organic foods are significantly different in terms of their safety and nutritional content to those produced by conventional farming.”

He challenged them to prove him wrong.  This galvanized the Soil Association and others to take action.  They collected all the research that had been done.   Anything that didn’t stand up to peer review was discounted and the remainder was published in a book entitled ‘Organic farming, food quality and human health’ – A review of the evidence’

(available from the Soil Association price £12 – ISBN 0 905200 80 2) Tel 0044 117 314 5000.  Since then a number of important research projects are underway in the University of Newcastle (


For all the recipes below please try and use as many organic products as is possible.


Organic Apple and Custard Tart


Pears, gooseberries, apricots, rhubarb and plums are also good and the custard could be flavoured with a little cinnamon instead of vanilla if you want to ring the changes.

Serves 10-12



8 ozs (225g) plain organic flour

6 ozs (170g) butter

pinch of salt

1 dessertspoon icing sugar

a little beaten organic free range egg or egg yolk and water to bind



2-3 organic apples

1/2 pint (300ml) cream

2 large or 3 small eggs

2 tablespoons castor sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence 

4-6 tablespoons apricot glaze (see recipe)


1 x 12 inch (30.5cm) tart tin or 2 x 7 inch (18cm) tart tins


Make the shortcrust pastry in the usual way (see recipe) and leave to relax in a fridge for 1 hour. Line a tart tin (or tins), with a removable base and chill for 10 minutes. Line with paper and fill with dried beans and bake blind in a moderate oven 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 15-20 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, paint the tart with a little egg wash and return to the oven for 3 or 4 minutes.  Allow to cool, then paint the base with apricot glaze.


Peel the apples, quarter, core and cut into even slices about one-eight inch thick. Arrange one at a time as you slice to form a circle inside the tart, the slices should slightly overlap on the inside, fill the centre likewise. Whisk the eggs well, with the sugar and vanilla essence, add the cream. Strain this mixture over the apples and bake at 180C/350F/gas mark 4, for 35 minutes. When the custard is set and the apples are fully cooked, brush generously with apricot glaze and serve warm with a bowl of whipped cream.


NB:  The apricot glaze here is essential for flavour not just for appearance.


Shortcrust Pastry

Sieve the flour and sugar into a bowl, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop. Whisk the egg yolk and add the water.

Take a fork or knife (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect the pastry into a ball with your hands. This way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although slightly damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper shorter crust.

Cover the pastry with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes or better still 30 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.


Organic Asian Chicken and Lettuce Rolls

This was one of our favourite recipes when Antony Worrall Thompson did a guest chef appearance at the Cookery School. We get our organic chickens from John Ahern at Born Free Organic Chicken, you can purchase organic chickens from him at the Midleton Farmer’s Market.


Serves 4


400g (14ozs) free range organic chicken mince 

1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely diced 

2 spring onions, finely chopped 

1 garlic clove, crushed  

1 teaspoon ginger, peeled and grated

1 teaspoon sesame oil 

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander 

2 tablespoons chopped cashew nuts

1 carrot, julienne

2 tablespoons oyster sauce 

2 teaspoons clear honey

16–20 cos lettuce leaves 

Salt and freshly ground pepper

200g (7oz) brown basmati rice, cooked, to serve

lime wedges, to serve 


Mix the chicken mince with the chilli, spring onions, garlic, ginger and sesame oil. Heat a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and cook the mince mixture for about 5 minutes, breaking the meat up with the back of a fork until golden brown.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.


Add the coriander, cashews, carrot, oyster sauce and honey, stir to combine and continue to heat until the chicken is cooked through.  Taste and correct the seasoning.


Serve the mince with the lettuce leaves (each diner rolls the parcels themselves), cooked rice and lime wedges to squeeze – delish.  

Antony Worrall Thompson


Note: 25g (1oz) water chestnuts is a delicious addition to the above recipe.



Beef & Chorizo Stew

Serves 6-8


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

110g (4oz) organic chorizo sausage, sliced 

1kg (2lb) organic stewing beef, cut into 3 cm (1¼ inch) cubes

2 large onions, sliced

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons tomato puree

½ teaspoon paprika

1-teaspoon thyme leaves

4 tablespoons dry sherry

250ml (8 fl.oz)organic red wine

250ml (8 fl.oz) beef, chicken or vegetable stock

salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat the oil in a heavy casserole over medium heat.   Add the sliced organic chorizo and cook until the oil begins to run, about 2-3 minutes.    Remove the chorizo and set aside in a bowl.   Increase the heat, add the organic beef to the pot and fry off in batches until sealed and well browned.  If the pan is over-crowded the meat will stew rather than brown.  Remove the beef from the pot and put in the bowl with the chorizo.


Add the onion to the pot (adding extra oil if required), and cook, stirring until golden and just starting to brown at the edges.   Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two 

Stir in the flour and cook for another minute.   Add the tomato puree, paprika and thyme and cook for a few seconds.   Then return the chorizo and beef to the pot.   Stir everything well, then add the sherry and wine, bring to simmering point, then add the hot stock or water.   Cover and simmer gently until the meat is tender, about 1½ hours.   We prefer to cook it in a pre-heated oven, 160c/325F/gas 3.   Season cautiously, but taste first because if the sausage is salty you may not need any additional salt, just some freshly ground pepper.  Serve scattered with roughly chopped parsley. 


Smashed Potatoes
Serves 8

4 lbs (1.8kg) organic  potatoes

creamy milk

salt and freshly ground pepper


4 scallions, optional


Scrub the potatoes really well, put into a saucepan.  Cover with cold water, add salt, bring to the boil and cook until almost tender.  Pour off most of the water.  Cover the saucepan and steam until fully cooked.  Drain off any remaining water.  Mash the potatoes coarsely with a potato masher; add some hot creamy milk, a large lump of butter, lots of salt and freshly ground pepper.  Add the finely sliced scallions, if using.  Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.


Sadly there is no organic Irish butter it would be fantastic if someone could produce this to add to the wonderful array of organic products in Ireland.


Brown Soda Bread


275g/10 oz organic brown wholemeal flour (preferably stone-ground)

275g/10 oz organic plain white flour

1 teaspoon dairy salt

1 teaspoon bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda), sieved

425ml/15 flozs approx. sour milk or buttermilk


First preheat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas 8


Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl, make a well in the centre and pour in all of the sour milk or buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in a full circle starting in the centre of the bowl working towards the outside of the bowl until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, a matter of seconds, turn it out onto a well floured board. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Roll around gently with floury hands for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 2 inches (5cm) approx. Sprinkle a little flour onto a baking sheet and place the loaf on top of the flour. Mark with a deep cross and bake in a hot oven 230C/450F/Gas 8 after 15-20 minutes reduce the heat to 200C/400F/GAS 6 for approx. 20-25 minutes or until the bread is cooked (In some ovens it is necessary to turn the bread upside down on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before the end of baking) It will sound hollow when tapped.  Cool on a wire rack.

Note:  One could add 25g/1 oz fine oatmeal, 1 egg and 25g/1 oz stick butter to the above to make a richer soda bread dough.


Chocolate and Rosemary Mousse with Pouring Cream

Serves 8


Lovely Jane Grigson, the legendary British country writer, gave me this recipe when she came to teach at the Cookery School in 1989.


225g (8oz) castor sugar

225ml (8fl oz) dry white wine

Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon

600ml (1 pint) double cream

1 long branch of fresh rosemary

175g (6oz)  organic dark chocolate (Green & Black), chopped


Mix the sugar, wine and lemon juice in a stainless steel saucepan, stir until dissolved over a low heat.  Add the cream, bring to the boil – the mixture will thicken somewhat.  Add the rosemary and chocolate.  Stir, bring back to the boil then lower the heat and allow the mixture to simmer very gently for 20 minutes.  It should be the consistency of thick cream.  Leave to cool, tasting occasionally to see if the rosemary flavour is intense enough.  Pour through a sieve into 8 ramekins or little shot glasses.  Cool, cover with cling film and refrigerate.


Serve with pouring cream and a sprig of rosemary.

Salad of Organic Salmon with poached egg and Organic Cheese


Serves 4


A mixture of organic salad leaves


170g (6ozs) of organic salmon


4 free-range organic eggs


Caesar Salad Dressing – see recipe


1oz (25g) freshly grated Mount Callan Organic Cheddar Cheese


First make the Caesar dressing – you will have more than you need for this recipe but it keeps for several weeks so save it in the refrigerator for another time.

Fill a small saucepan with cold water, add a little salt.  When the water is boiling, reduce the heat, crack the egg and allow it to drop gently into the water.  Cook in the barely simmering water for 4 to 5 minutes or until the white is set and the yolk is still soft. You may cook the eggs separately or together depending on the size of your saucepan.

Meanwhile heat a frying pan, add a little olive or sunflower oil and allow to heat, add the cubed salmon and cook turning regularly and gently until just cooked through. Season with salt and pepper

Put a little caesar dressing on the plate.  Quickly arrange a selection of lettuce and salad leaves on top.  Sprinkle the cubed salmon over the salad, top with a poached egg. Drizzle some caesar dressing over the poached egg and salad leaves. 

Sprinkle with freshly grated organic cheese (use a microplane or a fine grater) and a little chopped parsley and serve immediately.


Caesar Dressing


2 egg yolks, preferably free-range

2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 x 2oz (55g) tin anchovies

1 clove garlic, crushed

a generous pinch of English mustard powder

2 teaspoons salt

½tablespoon Worcester sauce

½tablespoon Tabasco sauce

6fl oz (175ml) sunflower oil

2fl oz (50ml) extra virgin olive oil

50ml (2fl oz) cold water


We make this dressing in a food processor but it can also be made very quickly by hand. Drain the anchovies and crush lightly with a fork. Put into a bowl with the egg yolks, add the garlic, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, Worcester and Tabasco sauce. Whisk all the ingredients together.  As you whisk, add the oils slowly at first, then a little faster as the emulsion forms. Finally whisk in the water. Taste and correct the seasoning: this dressing should be highly flavoured.


Fool Proof Food



Organic Cheese Toasties


Makes 4


8 slices of best white sliced bread


2 ozs (55g) approx. butter

8 ozs (225g) coarsely grated or sliced Mount Callan Organic Cheddar Cheese

Chopped parsley

Freshly ground pepper


A little salad

A few cherry tomatoes


Preheat a wide frying pan on a medium heat. 

Butter the bread slices, put one slice butter side down on the pan top with cheese. Finally press another slice of bread on top.  Smear a little butter onto the outside of the slice and flip over as soon as the base is nice and golden.  Cut into slices and serve on hot plates with a little salad and a few cherry tomatoes. 




A Taste of West Cork Food Festival is taking place in Skibbereen from the

16th – 21st September 2008

There will be open air food and craft market, gourmet barbecue, live music, healthy eating workshops, teddy bears picnic and many more entertaining activities.

You can see a full list of events on or contact

Eilis Coholan on 086 2223531


Inish Beg, Baltimore, County Cork

Inish Beg Cookery Courses Autumn 2008

Essentially Fish and a little bit of Duck – 2 day course 16th/17th October

Autumnal Ideas at Inish Beg – 2 day weekend course 18th/19th October

Tel: 028-21745 or email:


Erin Brockovich is coming to Dubin for National Organic Week

The Erin Brockovitch Fund-Raiser For GM-Free Ireland

Will take place in O’Reilly Hall, UCD

Saturday 20th September at 1pm

Tickets can be purchased from


Slow Food Ireland are holding a Old Fashioned Threshing Event

A family day at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Sunday 14th September 4, 2008 12-5pm

Tickets available on the day.

Rachel Allen – Book signing

Forgotten Skills Demostration



Past Letters